Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Monday, May 15, 2006

Boreham and His Literary Models Part 3: Dickens

This is the third in a series of articles on F W Boreham and the authors who influenced him greatly. This posting looks at the way the English author, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) left his imprint on F W Boreham.

We have seen in an earlier posting that one of Boreham’s famous fictional characters was the enigmatic, John Broadbanks,[1] In Boreham’s development of John Broadbanks it is possible to see traces of the Dickensian “tendency toward multiple projection”[2] and the way Dickens developed “sides of himself in all the major figures in his moral and social spectrum, male and female, young and old”.[3] Many of their works display a monotonous habit of writing in absolutist terms.[4] Furthermore, like Dickens, Boreham shared the journalistic consciousness of how his writings would be received and he practised the appropriate use of the entertainment factor.[5] They both cultivated the creative faculty of finding the right word.[6]

Boreham perceived that Dickens achieved popularity through choosing not to deal with life’s profound issues, preferring instead to weave “a most entrancing literature out of phases of human experience that very few writers would have deigned to touch”.[7] This undoubtedly inspired Boreham to write editorials on such mundane topics as, ‘The roadside rest’,[8] ‘The pros and cons of insomnia’,[9] ‘Tin tacks’[10] and ‘The sweetening of the peach’.[11] Addressing the everyday matters of life, with a humble regard for his readers[12] and at a level most could understand,[13]

Boreham hailed Dickens as “the great storyteller of the common lives of the common people”.[14] He believed that Dickens’ greatness was “though dealing continually with little worries, little hardships, little pleasures, he made the dullest of lives in the drabbest of streets as enchanting as a fairy tale”.[15] Boreham found it remarkable that Dickens “established so stupendous a business on so small a capital”.[16] He said that readers “felt that Dickens understood them”[17] which was a quality that made “his pages ... ring with reality”.[18]

Boreham regarded Dickens as the type of writer who was “much enjoyed”[19] by his readers while giving them the feeling that the author was “thoroughly enjoying himself”.[20] It is interesting that amid the “fusillade of compliments” that Boreham received in his lifetime, the one that pleased him the most was from a man who stated that he “always enjoyed my lectures because it was so evident that I thoroughly enjoyed them myself!”[21] It was this enjoyment of the writing task, this resonation between author and readers, that made the readers feel “a personality behind the pages”, that was a feature that accounted for much of the appeal that Dickens and Boreham gained.[22] The enjoyment of the writing task by Dickens appeared to Boreham as if “his pen seems to romp across the pages”.[23] Critics such as Garrett Stewart found this tendency towards overflow akin to George Eliot’s phrase of “thoughts being entangled in metaphors” or words “tripping up” the author.[24] Stewart denounced this as a form of indulgence and bordering at times on “dangerously negligent loquacity”—traits that Boreham often exhibited because of his over exuberance with the writing task.[25]

Geoff Pound

Image: Charles Dickens

[1] For examples of the way Boreham developed the Broadbanks figure see Boreham, Ships of pearl, 163, 223. An analysis of the Broadbanks phenomenon is found in Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 98, 74, 225.
[2] A Welsh, From copyright to Copperfield: The identity of Dickens (Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1987), 28, 45.
[3] M Golden, Dickens imagining himself: Six novel encounters with a changing world (Lanham: University Press of America, 1992), 4.
[4] Peter Ackroyd comments, “With Charles Dickens everything was the best or the worst,” in Ackroyd, Introduction to Dickens, 23. Similarly Boreham often introduced characters or their work this way as in “the greatest history ever written” (Boreham, Mercury, 23 September 1933) or “the greatest interpreter of natural phenomena” (Boreham, Mercury, 17 November 1934) and “the greatest diarist of all time” (Boreham, Mercury, 27 February 1954).
[5] F R Leavis, writing of Dickens says his “genius was that of a great entertainer”, in F R Leavis, The great tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950), 29. An example of an instance when Boreham wrote of the constructive uses of literature to entertain can be found in the Mercury, 4 March 1944.
[6] Walter Bagehot made reference to Dickens’ ‘creative taste’ that expressed itself in concern to find ‘le mot juste’ in Walter Bagehot, ‘Charles Dickens’, The collected works of Walter Bagehot, ed. Norman St John-Stevas, vol. 2 (London: The Economist, 1965), 103.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 1 September 1928.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 24 March 1928.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 21 November 1931.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 11 February 1933.
[12] G K Chesterton said, “Dickens never talked down to the people. He talked up to the people. He approached the people like a deity and poured out his riches and his blood”. G K Chesterton, Charles Dickens (London: Methuen, 1906), 20.
[13] George Saintsbury amplifies Dickens’ broad appeal in saying “No author in our literary history has been both admired and enjoyed for such different reasons; by such different tastes and intellects; by whole classes of readers unlike each other”. In George Saintsbury, ‘Dickens’, in The Cambridge history of English literature, eds. A W Ward and A R Waller, vol. 13. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967 [1916]), 304.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 9 June 1945.
[18] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[19] Boreham, Mercury, 18 May 1935.
[20] Boreham, Mercury 28 March 1936; Mention is made of Dickens’ ‘exuberance’ in Ackroyd, Introduction to Dickens, 7.
[21] F W Boreham, The fiery crags (London: The Epworth Press, 1928), 74.
[22] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[23] Boreham, Mercury, 28 March 1936.
[24] G Stewart, Dickens and the trials of imagination (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1974), 121.
[25] Stewart, Dickens and the trials of imagination, 136.